Tech Tutors provide one-on-one technology assistance to students

By Paige Cooperstein, communications intern for Teaching and Learning with Technology

Thanks to a Stall Stories advertisement in spring 2011, Zach Chandler, then a Penn State junior, decided to become a Technology Learning Assistant (TLA). TLAs primarily serve faculty who request help with ANGEL or other technologies needed to run their classrooms. Last semester, Information Technology Services (ITS) Training Services launched a similar service, called Tech Tutors, for the student population.

Spearheaded by Glenna Emel, instructional designer in ITS Training Services, and Heather Huntsinger, information technology trainer in ITS Training Services, the student Tech Tutors service launched in pilot mode at the start of the spring 2012 semester. This year the program will be headed by Nathan Culmer, also an instructional designer in ITS Training Services. Culmer has spent the summer working hard to secure a new location for Tech Tutors in the Knowledge Commons in Pattee Library and also to create new signage, expanded opportunities, and a much larger team of trained Tech Tutors.
 
To kick off the service last year, Emel and Huntsinger pulled Tech Tutor candidates from an already strong body of TLAs, giving these students the opportunity to apply for the new student oriented positions. Chandler jumped at the chance, looking forward to using the skills he had acquired through the TLA program to help his fellow students.
 
Chandler, along with tutors Lauren Hoyt, a junior in public relations, and Justin Menapace, a 2012 graduate in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), kicked off the service as the first student Tech Tutors. To promote awareness and identification, each wore a purple shirt with the words "Tech Tutor" prominently displayed on the back.
 
TheTech Tutors were stationed in several labs across campus where they worked one-on-one with students who needed assistance using technology to complete their course assignments. According to Emel, next year's Tech Tutors will reside solely in two places: 201 Pollock and study room 122 in the Knowledge Commons in Pattee Library from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. "What we found was that having Tech Tutors in different locations at different times of the day made it challenging for students to keep track of where they were at any given time," said Emel. She feels the single location will make it easier for students to remember.
 
Hoyt, who also joined Tech Tutors through the TLA program, will be the only returning Tech Tutor in fall 2012. As a freshman, the integration of business into technology drew Hoyt to the IST major before she settled on public relations. While in the college of IST, a professor recommended the TLA program to Hoyt.
 
As a psychology major, Chandler didn't know technology by trade, but he had a little background knowledge from working in his high school's technology department and taking software application classes there. Chandler said he felt comfortable as a Tech Tutor because of the resources made available to each tutor. "We had training packets with step-by-step instructions for us to learn programs on our own, but I also saved my binder full of exercises from the [original TLA] training course," Chandler said.

Hoyt added lyndaCampus as a resource. This online training library is free to currently enrolled students, as well as active Penn State faculty and staff members who may log in via lynda.psu.edu with a valid Penn State Access ID and password to access training in anything from 3D and web design applications to business administration programs. Tutorials come in the form of how-to videos broken into brief chapters. In the student section of the site, users can even add courses to their profiles, prioritize their work, and track their training progress.  

Chandler felt he had the most to learn about the Adobe suite of programs, and he turned to lynda.psu.edu to learn them. He was also pleased to find he could help students even with the basics of Microsoft Excel. Chandler described one Tech Tutor session in which a student was trying to integrate two web databases into a single Excel spreadsheet. Some people in the student's group had logged the same information on both websites using different e-mail addresses, so the student didn't immediately catch all of the duplication.

"I got out a notebook to draw her a diagram of the problem," Chandler said. "She had already done most of the work to fix the problem herself, but she didn't have the complete concept. She just needed a new approach."

Hoyt also helped a lot of students with Excel. She said a professor had directed students in his class to go to Tech Tutors for extra assistance with their course work, fulfilling an intended goal of the service. "We want the Tech Tutors service to be used by faculty who need to point their students to additional learning resources to complete course work and also by students who opt to seek help on their own," said Emel.

Outside that class, Hoyt tutored a girl who needed to learn Excel for a summer internship. The two of them made an appointment to work together since the student's schedule could not accommodate Hoyt's walk-in hours. At the end of the session, Hoyt left the student with some how-to pamphlets and directed her to lynda.psu.edu as a further resource. "We don't want to just tell students what to do and not have them learn anything," Hoyt said.
 
In Chandler's experience, his work as a Tech Tutor focused on providing students with the right approach to their technology goals. Over the course of the spring semester, he said he worked with five or six different students.
 
Andrea Amato, a 2012 graduate in engineering, found out about Tech Tutors through a Penn State engineering newsletter. She worked with the Tech Tutors five times throughout the semester.
 
Another engineering major, sophomore Kamila Dagilova, worked with Tech Tutors to help her set up her personal web page on Penn State's server. Dagilova wrote in an e-mail, "Initially I planned to build the site by writing code in a notepad, but the tutor recommended me to try Dreamweaver." She added that her experience was successful due to her tutor's quick responses and willingness to look up the answers to her questions.
 
Jenna Hammond, a 2012 graduate in marketing, also visited the Tech Tutors repeatedly--eight to ten times, she estimated. "I had been having a lot of trouble using Dreamweaver for my ART203 class," Hammond wrote in an e-mail. "I had asked for help from the ITS desk [lab consultant] in Pollock, and they are the ones that referred me to Tech Tutors."

Hammond hadn't been aware of Tech Tutors before asking for help from the ITS lab consultant, but after she searched online for Tech Tutors to discover the schedule and location, she was hooked. She wrote of her experience with tutor Justin Menapace, "Justin did a great job of explaining and helping me without making me feel clueless (even though I was!)."
 
Getting to know these other students was Hoyt's favorite part of being a Tech Tutor. "I really liked interacting with other people," she said. "I learned a lot from them. I didn't know much about their classes, but I could learn and help them with the technology at the same time."

Menapace created and maintained the Tech Tutors presence on Facebook and Twitter. All the tutors, as well as Emel and Huntsinger, served as admins to post updates to the Facebook page. This year, Jennifer Montminy, a senior English major will be the driving force behind the social media presence, working with the new team of Tech Tutors to keep their sites fun, helpful, and up-to-date. Montminy encourages people to follow Tech Tutors on social media, "We are working on a lot of really cool things, from posting great tech tips online to fielding questions and feedback via Twitter and Facebook."
 
The Tech Tutors service currently operates during fall and spring semesters, but students who would like to become Tech Tutors may apply at any time. ITS Training Services accepts applications on a rolling basis. To explore all training opportunities for students, visit http://its.psu.edu/training/students/.
 
Related links:

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Tech Tutors on Facebook
Tech Tutors on Twitter

lynda.com video tutorials